2. Affection for the Dying
Antiquities of the Christian Church
XX. Funeral Rites and Ceremonies
2. Affection for the Dying
The greatest attention was bestowed by the early Christians upon the dying, and the highest respect entertained for their final counsels, instructions, and prayers. Their exhortations to surviving friends, and their prayers in their behalf, were treasured up with pious care. Their will in regard to the disposal of their effects, and the appropriation of them for objects of charity and benevolence, were religiously observed. The sign of the cross was administered to them. The bishop and the several orders of the clergy, as well as relatives and friends, sought to offer them consolation. Prayers were offered in the church for them. Friends pressed around them to give, and receive the parting kiss, and the last embrace. To such as were restored to christian fellowship in their dying moments, the sacrament was administered. This was afterwards united with the ceremony of extreme unction.
Friends and relatives closed the eyes and mouth of the dying – a becoming rite which all nations have observed. But to the early Christians this was an emblem of the peaceful slumber of the deceased, from which he was expected to awake at the resurrection of the just. The body was then washed and clothed in a garment usually of white linen, but sometimes made of more costly materials and ornamented with gold, precious stones, etc. The corpse was laid out in its best attire; and in addition to these rites it was frequently anointed and embalmed.
Christians, contrary to the custom of the Jews, deposited the body in a coffin. This custom they observed in common with many heathen nations. The corpse was exposed to view for some time before interment either at home, or in the streets, or more frequently in the church. During this time it was attended by the nearest relatives and friends, whose duty it was to perform these last offices of affection for the dead. The wailings of mourning women were, on no account, allowed as was customary among the Jews and many pagan nations. Such lamentations were exceedingly incongruous to the Christian who regarded death as no loss, but unspeakable gain.
The office of sexton was of very early date, and held in high repute, as an honorable occupation.
Theodoret. b. e. lib. i. c. 18: v. c. 25: Gregor. Nyssen. Ecom. Ephraemi: August. Conf. ix. c. 11, 13.
Euseb. h.e. lib. iv. c. 15: viii.c.9: De Vit. Constant. M. iv. c. 61: Gregor. Nyssen. De Vita Gregor. Thaum. p. 311.
Gregor. Naz. tom. i. p. 173: Balil M. ep. 84.
Ambros. in Ep. ad Thess. c. 4: Athanas. Vit. S. Anthon.: Chrys. Hom. 55. in Math. c. 16: Gregor. M. Homil. 38. in Evang.
Hildebrand, De Arte bene mor. p. 230: De Precib. Vet. c. 28.
Euseb. h. e. vi. c. 3: Chrysost. Ilom. i: De Patient. Jobi.
Chrysost. Hom. i. De Pat. Jobi, etc.
Franzen. Antiq. Fun. p. 72.
Clemen. Alex. Paedag. 3. 8: Euseb. h. e. lib. ii. c. 22. 16: De Vit. Constant, iv. c. 66.
Ambros. Orat. in Obit. Theodos.